GULF COAST of Louisiana — The
Louisiana Baptist Convention will begin dispatching disaster relief chaplains
to the oil-beleaguered Gulf Coast areas of the state beginning June 7.
“We received a request June 2” from emergency management officials “and we are
sending 12 DR chaplains a week for the next few months or as long as needed,”
said Gibbie McMillan, disaster relief director for the Louisiana convention. “They
will be in Grande Isle, Venice, etc.”
James Carson, the convention’s DR chaplaincy coordinator and director of
missions for Caldwell, Deer Creek and Richland Baptist associations, followed
up June 2 by contacting the regional DR chaplaincy coordinator, Joe Arnold, who
is director of missions for Bayou Baptist Association just north of the Gulf,
to alert DR chaplains in the area to prepare to be called out the week of June
“Everyone is engaged in vigorous conversation,” said Duane McDaniel, executive
director of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans. “Everyone recognizes
that there is a disaster unfolding, and we’re just seeing the tip of the
wellhead (of need). We’ll be dealing with the devastation for the long term.”
A gathering of SBC disaster relief coordinators from the entire Gulf Coast
region has been called for the week of June 7.
“We know what to do with hurricanes, but this manmade disaster has hidden
victims,” Arnold said. “This is going to be a long-term thing — we’re talking
years…. Right now the tension is so touchy down there (at the water’s edge).
There’s a lot of frustration.”
“Everything is just too fluid to see how it’s going to play out,” said Eddie
Painter, commercial fisherman and pastor of Barataria (La.) Baptist Church. “Everybody’s
The oil spill resulting from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on
April 20 has affected an estimated third of the fishing waters in the Gulf of
“This is not an overwhelming-crushing-moment crisis; it’s prolonged,” said
pastor Craig Ratliff of Celebration Arabi Church in St. Bernard Parish. “You
wake up tomorrow and wonder if it’s going to be worse than today.”
Thus, ministry to help alleviate that tension has become the initial way
Southern Baptists are responding to the disaster, say Louisiana Baptist DR
personnel, pastors and directors of missions, disaster relief, several of whom
did onsite assessments of the situation over the Memorial Day weekend.
McDaniel and David Maxwell, disaster relief coordinator for the New Orleans
association, met May 28 with Painter; Steve McNeal, pastor of First Baptist
Church in Venice, the farthest-south town in Louisiana; and Lynn Rodrigue,
pastor of Port Sulphur Baptist Church.
The “situation” includes a 1,500-person tent village being built for oil spill
“The infrastructure is not designed for that many people,” Maxwell said. McNeal
talked about the possibility of acquiring exercise equipment and using First
Baptist Venice’s building as a fitness center. He also suggested showing films
in the church at night.
Rodrigue mentioned the possibility of providing facilities for volunteers in
future DR-related efforts as they evolve. The men determined a feeding ministry
is not needed at the present time. Block parties and other children/family
activities are possibilities.
Various ways of connecting with the fishing industry families and with those
coming to the region’s rescue were discussed.
“Southern Baptists care, and they want to show they care,” McDaniel said. “It’s
in the long run — through the relationships built — that we show we care. The
pastors there are talking about the psychological and spiritual well-being of
the families. The tensions are there and it could be an explosive powder keg
situation down the road.”
Logistics and health/safety issues need to be worked out before large groups
come to minister along the Gulf Coast, Maxwell said.
The big need, all said, is for trained disaster relief counselors who will sit
and listen to people talk about losing not only their livelihood but also their
heritage, who will sit and listen to people talk about the uncertainty, the
dashed hopes and dim future, and who will remind people that with the strength
of Jesus in their hearts, this too they can get through.
Southern Baptist DR-trained counselors have waited to get involved in the
disaster until being asked by emergency management officials to do so, McMillan
said. According to the DR charter, SBC DR personnel always respond to requests
rather than initiate action unsolicited.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Willoughby is managing editor of the Baptist Message,
newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.)